Thanks to our federal agribusiness policies, healthy, organic food IS more expensive than the processed, chemical-laden crap that’s so readily available to us. A recent study showed that a single dollar can buy you either 1,200 calories of processed garbage or a mere 250 calories of fresh fruits, vegetables, organic meat, or whole grains. How do you like that for a statistic? The New York Times has also reported that organic food can be anywhere from 20 to 100 percent more expensive than non-organic. BUT just because our food system is screwed up, it doesn’t mean you have to make yourself fat or sick, or both, with the crap they’re selling, even if it is more affordable.
Let me put it to you this way: In the long run, choosing these “cheap” foods filled with trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, nitrates, pesticides, and antibiotics are going to cost you more — because you’ll be paying for them with your health. Organic food may have a higher price tag, but you really can’t afford NOT to eat it. And if you’re really concerned about breaking the bank, the easiest and cheapest way to eat organic is to simply grow it yourself. I’m serious! Anyone can plant an organic garden that provides delicious, fresh, pesticide-free food and herbs. Even most grade-schoolers learn how to stick a seed in a cup of dirt and watch it grow. And not having a backyard is NO excuse! Plenty of urban dwellers make use of their rooftops, balconies, fire escapes, and windowsills — so get growing!
Starting Your Own Organic Garden
- Get your green thumb going in the spring or early summer. It’ll take a while for your plants to mature and start producing food, so start sowing your seeds early in the season. This way, you can grow food all summer long and into the early fall — or beyond, depending on the climate you live in. Trust me, you’re going to be so psyched when your first juicy tomato begins ripening on the vine.
- Get some basic tools. Your garden isn’t going to tend itself, so you’ll need some standard stuff to maintain it. For an outdoor garden, get your hands on:
* Gardening glovesIf you’re starting out with a windowsill or a container garden at your apartment, you can narrow it down to the first four items.
* Pruning shears
* Watering can (or hose, if it’s a large plot)
* Spading fork
- Pick your plot. Are you going to grow your garden outside or inside? If you’re growing outside, you’ll most likely just plant your garden in the ground. In this case, you’ll probably need to do a little pre-planting work like weeding, adding compost, and raking. If your dirt isn’t up to snuff (too much sand or clay, for example), just build a raised-bed garden over your native soil. Create a border with wood, bricks, or rocks, and then fill it in with several inches of new soil and compost. If you’re growing your garden inside, you’ll want to protect your plants from root rot by using containers that have holes in the bottom for drainage. Put a layer of small rocks in the bottom before filling the pots with soil. And remember, large pots are better for mature plants, since they give the roots space to grow and the soil won’t dry out as quickly as it will in a small one.
- Decide what to grow. This is the fun part! Think about your favorite veggies, fruits, and herbs, and go crazy! For the record, beginners usually have good luck with tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, melons, basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, oregano, and mint. If you’re doing an indoor garden, keep in mind that certain plants, including root crops and asparagus, don’t do well in containers indoors but lettuce and herbs do.
- Sow your seeds. Put organic seedlings in small, starter pots of dirt to get them going, and then transplant them into the ground or into bigger pots after they sprout. If you don’t have patience for the seed thing, you can also go to an organic nursery or a local organic farm and purchase some small starter plants.
- Pay attention to instructions. The seed package or the informational tag on a starter plant should indicate what kind of care the plant needs, such as how much sunlight or water. Some seeds do great when you plant them directly in a small trench; others, like squash, zucchini, cucumbers, melons, and pumpkins do well when planted in a mound of dirt; and lettuces and dill require a lot of light to sprout, so don’t bury them within an inch of their life, just sprinkle a bit of soil on top of them. Most plants need at least six hours of sun a day; keep that in mind when choosing your optimal planting location.
- Control weeds and pests naturally. Since an organic garden is pesticide-free, you’ll need to find alternatives to the typical chemicals non-organic gardeners use. Spread bark mulch or straw around the garden to discourage weeds. When weeds do appear, just pull them out by hand, making sure to remove the whole weed, including the root. If you have a pest problem, go online and find out what kind of organic solutions work best to eliminate the annoying little buggers. Take the same tactic for anything else that might stump you during your gardening adventures. There are a million organic-gardening Web sites that can provide you with valuable tips and advice.
Soon, you’ll be kicking butt at organic gardening and enjoying the benefits of a healthy weight, a reduced risk of diabetes, cancer, and other illnesses, and a delicious diet free of scary hormones and nasty chemicals. It’ll be totally worth it!